Saturday, 1 June 2013

Hord's Theory

Poul Anderson based his character Chunderban Desai's theory of history on that of his correspondent, John K Hord. Anderson summarized Hord's theory in "Concerning Future Histories" (Bulletin of the Science Fiction Writers of America, Volume 14, Number 3, Fall 1979, Whole Number 71).

Anderson's article answers one of my questions about Desai's theory. According to Hord, not all civilizations are locked into the pattern that he describes. Instead, some, existing at the time he was writing, were in "free growth" (p. 10).

But, in most cases:

society fails to solve some basic problem;
about 125 years later, that society breaks down unless, within that time, the breakdown event is retrospectively identified and the damage repaired;
but, with the passage of time, repair becomes harder, then impossible;
loyalty to failing institutions is strained until civil wars (Chinese "Contending States") ensue;
many brilliant achievements of a civilization date from this epoch;
one contender succeeds "...and establishes a Toynbeean 'universal state'" (p. 11);
the "principate" phase of the universal state is, first, enlightened and tolerant but, later, corrupted and losing all legitimacy;
a new round of civil wars and equally ruthless although quieter power struggles leads to the increasingly oppressive "dominate" phase, which also breaks down;
in the following dark age, a new society is born;
the gestating society has bad times but also hopeful periods, for example when its "ghost empire" disintegrates (I have heard the Catholic Church described as the ghost of the Roman Empire enthroned on its tomb but I do not know whether this is one of Hord's "ghost empires");
having exhausted the pattern, society takes off into "free growth," apparently able to develop in any direction unless, presumably, another basic problem remains unsolved, thus re-initiating the pattern of about 1500 years from breakdown to rebirth, although some broken-down societies have been retrieved by "conversion tyrannies" with their own shorter pattern and some universal states have been aborted (that would be by invasion and conquest, according to Desai).

Hord's contributions are the closely measured spans for the stages but also the recognition that there is no absolute inevitability.

10 comments:

  1. Hi, Paul!

    I think what Hord meant by the "ghost empire" in Western history was the Holy Roman Empire, a ultimately failed attempt at reuniting Europe in a renewed Roman Empire.

    Sean

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  2. Sean,
    Yes, that does make a lot more sense!
    Paul.

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    1. Hi, Paul!

      And the Holy Roman Empire was certainly ghostly after the Thirty Years War basically destroyed it. Altho it's shadow or shell lingered till Napoleon forced the last Emperor, Francis II, to abdicate in 1806.

      Sean

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  3. Sean,
    You know a lot more history than I do.
    Paul.

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    1. Hi, Paul!

      Many thanks! But my knowledge of history is based on nothing but my interest as an amateur. (Smiles)

      And memories of the old Empire lingered within the Austrian Empire (which became the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary in 1867), which survived till 1918.

      Sean

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  4. Bonjour!
    I wonder if this is the same Mr. Hord?
    https://science.gsfc.nasa.gov/sed/bio/john.k.hord
    All because I thought I might find a nice juicy history in the library where I work!!
    Bookmarked your blog -- love Mr. Anderson, & now I have a lot to catch up on!!

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    Replies
    1. Hi,
      Thank you although I doubt it!
      Paul.

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    2. Dear GibsonGirl,

      I will be looking up your possible link to John K. Hord. It's frustrating, that the best summaries I've found of his work remains what Poul Anderson said. And I hope we see more comments from you.

      Sean

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  5. I'm not all that impressed by Hord's theory.

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    1. Dear Mr. Stirling,

      Well, at least Hord didn't claim to use mathematics to arrive at his conclusions, unlike Asimov with Hari Seldon and "psychohistory." And Poul Anderson, while not agreeing with Hord in every detail, was still enthusiastic enough about his theories on how civilizations rise and fall in his later Technic Civilization stories. And I myself thought Hord made some valid points.

      Sean

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